Academic journal article German Quarterly

Beyond Caligari. The Films of Robert Wiene

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Beyond Caligari. The Films of Robert Wiene

Article excerpt

Jung, Uli, and Walter Schatzberg. Beyond Caligari. The Films of Robert Wiene. New York: Berghahn, 1999. 238 pp. $59.95 hardcover.

Robert Wiene is best known for directing the famous expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Jung and Schatzberg wish to change this. Disturbed by the fact that Wiene's rich and versatile filmmaking career has been eclipsed by the fame of Caligari, they reconstruct Wiene's substantial contribution to German film from World War I to his death in exile in 1938. The aim is not to uncover a previously neglected film genius. Rather, they wish to flesh out the Alltagsgeschichte of German film by documenting and describing the films of a "typical representative of early German film history" who knew extremely well how to integrate entertainment, commercial success, and cinematic virtuosity.

Beyond Caligari provides plot descriptions and production information for the over 70 films in which Wiene participated. For the films that are lost, Jung and Schatzberg skillfully craft together plot summaries from reviews, press statements, film programs and journals, censorship decisions, and stills. The plot summaries reveal the fascinating range of Wiene's work, as well as certain recurrent themes: insanity and psychological instability; crime and the inability of legal institutions to mete out justice; and strong and often intriguingly unbalanced female protagonists. The book tells us where surviving films are to be found-often in different versions at different archives-and provides a complete filmography of Wiene's work. The enormous amount of painstaking archival research that the authors undertook in Europe and in the United States makes this book an invaluable resource for studying Wiene's film and Weimar film in general.

After a biographical sketch in chapter one, subsequent chapters chronologically follow Wiene's film work. This approach is not particularly exciting, but it is useful. For all of the authors' desire to move "beyond Caligari," the organization and emphasis of the book spotlight the film. They divide Wiene's work in the early 1920s into "pre-" and "post-Caligari" phases, and Caligari is the only film to receive its own chapter. While other chapters provide only plot summaries of films or, in cases where the film survives, a mixture of summary and sometimes meandering analysis, the chapter on Caligari offers the most interesting film-theoretical discussion of the book. …

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